Silk Road with kids: tips and advice

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Silk Road with kids: tips and advice

Postby steven » Sat Sep 08, 2018 2:36 am

Hello traveling families!

Please let us know your questions and experiences traveling with children on the Silk Road. Thank you in advance for sharing!

We summarize all knowledge at Traveling the Silk Road with kids.
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Re: Silk Road with kids: tips and advice

Postby Lovetheworld » Sat Sep 08, 2018 4:17 am

Ah we should be able to answer some of the questions, but we travel with our own campervan so nothing about transportation.
Our kids are 2 and 4.

Usually no problem at all. Wherever possible I did fill in that 4 visa applications belonged together. Or added a passport copy of ourselves with the application of our kids.
Probably all not necessary. Never got questions.
Only when applying for a Russian business visa, not all companies know how to apply for that with accompanying children.
And it is just more money.

Cannot comment on transportation and accomodation.
Sometimes we camp at a guesthouse or so, and usually they never charge for our young kids (about using shower snd stuff)

Health issues:
It has been good for us, only once got a bit sick (whole family). However it is a part of the world where some diseases like TBC are present.
We followed some simple rules. Only eat at restaurants that you know are good (but not always possible, so sometimes a gamble)
Cook yourself and cook or peel vegetables (because diseases are on the skin)
We have our own water filter system in the van.
We decided that if we ever stayed with people who look seriuosly ill or hard coughing (more than a cold) we would leave right away. Never occured.
Of course washing hands after everything and keeping nails short.
And check for ticks. Bring such a tick remover tool.
We had all kinds of vaccinations including rabies and ticks for our kids.

We have two blonde girls and so they get everybodies attention. This is usually very nice. People always give you stuff.
That is a lot of times the sweetest candy.
Sometimes the women just kiss them or pick them up without asking or warning. So our youngest was at some point afraid for enthousiastic women approaching her. Men usually keep there distance a bit more.
Now in Mongolia it is more the men that just give a kiss or want a kiss. Nothing too serious but we don't really like it.

What they like:
Is not the same as what you like. They can be impressed by big buildings or old stuff. But not as much as you.
The incredible nature like huge mountains and stuff are not that astounding for children as for you. They like it more to build a dam in a small stream. Or sand dunes to play in, are great.
Last edited by Lovetheworld on Sat Sep 08, 2018 9:49 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Silk Road with kids: tips and advice

Postby Lovetheworld » Sat Sep 08, 2018 9:42 am

Also there are usually playgrounds in the cities or reasonable towns. Usually easy to find them.
The playgrounds in Russia are usually of very good quality, and you can find them by going to some appartment blocks for example. Or schools for example.
But in most Central Asian countries the playgrounds are more run down, with stuff not working or simply dangerous. So you have to pay attention.
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Re: Silk Road with kids: tips and advice

Postby Tot hier en verder » Fri Sep 28, 2018 8:25 am

Hi Steven,

Surprisingly few replies so far, so I hope this will be of some use. I don’t know how broad you want to interpret Silk Road in this case – I’ll stick to our experiences in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Iran. If you want I can add bits about Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, Turkey and Russia. Most of what I write is when our daughter was 6 years old and our son 4 years old.

This turned out quite a puzzle as we did not want to spend days/weeks waiting for visa at embassies while on the road. We thought our children would get bored (and, well, me too), having to wait that long in a particular city, so we made sure we got all our visa before we left home. First the easier e-visa for Turkey and Azerbaijan, which we could apply for half a year before our trip.
Then we applied for our Russian and Iranian visa, about 3 months before we entered those countries, respectively. Russia by mail; Iran at the embassy in The Hague. The Iranian visa is cheap and easy for Dutch nationals: no LOI, no questions about the car and stamped into your passport within a week.
Uzbekistan was a lot more paperwork and very expensive. Of course the whole package of visa for six countries for a family of four adds up to quite an amount… No problems though for any of the visa, including transit visa for Turkmenistan. In this case I think it might help handing over passports of young, blond, harmless looking children. Why would you deny them access? Though with Turkmenistan, I might be wrong, of course. I wonder if anyone with young children has had their visa denied?

Transport (issues)
We were driving our own VW T4 van, so no experiences whatsoever with local transport, apart from a tour to Ustyurt Plateau by 4WD in Kazakhstan. We did manage to break the springs of our van, though that was in Tusheti, Georgia on a 4WD road. Problems were more with sleeping in our van (as we missed some registration slips while doing so in Uzbekistan) and being scared in Ashgabat by local people who could not understand we did not get a fine with such a dirty van, after which we thought it might be a good idea to have it cleaned in a local moika. And of course we needed a Carnet for Iran.

Health Issues
It pays to research your health insurance options about a year before you go. We changed our health insurance and received some compensation for all the shots we got: tick borne encephalitis, typhoid fever, hepatitis B, rabies. Our daughter liked these little trips to the national public health institutes, as our children got a little present each time they were exposed to another needle. Our son is less prone to bribery.
It would probably have been better to pay more attention to those simple rules Lovetheworld mentions, e.g. keeping your fingernails short. Still, our daughter got sick just once for one day (because of the heat in Turkmenistan) and some ORS did the trick. Our son gets sick sometimes when there are to many hairpins in the road, so he always keeps a bucket within reach. The times when he just ate a lot of water melon or ice cream before these inconveniences resulted in a lovely sweet aroma in our van.
One more thing: our daughter has asthma. This provided an excuse to not have to sleep at yet another family’s house in Iran, as there are carpets everywhere. We really valued our privacy sometimes, but with overwhelming Iranian hospitality, it was hard to just camp somewhere in your van and not offend these friendly people. They would still ask if my wife and I would like to sleep indoors while the children would stay in the van :-)

We felt welcome everywhere on the silk road. The people we met were friendly, without exception. We were invited for a muslim service in an undergound mosque in Mangystau, Kazakhstan, at parties and picknicks in Uzbekistan and stayed for the night and/or dinner on numerous occasions in Iran.
As Lovetheworld described above, it’s always picture time in Central Asia. At some point our children hatched a plan: every time they saw locals approaching, they started running in some direction. “They know our parents will have to follow us to catch up, and they don’t want children to be separated from their parents. So when we run, they will leave us alone and we don’t have to be in their pictures.” This worked pretty well.
Distances can be quite long and stretched such as Astrakhan – Atyrau (entering Kazakhstan) are horrible due to poor road conditions. Still, in a van there’s plenty of room. We had a crate with toys, crayons, books between our children and they never mentioned getting bored. Our daughter loved just looking outside at the landscape. It’s great to see them doze off or just see them play, being confident that you will get them where you plan to go, no matter the conditions of the road or the unfamiliarity of the country.
We were teaching our children during the trip, as they were officialy not allowed to skip classes. In most countries, you have to follow your lessons – it does not really matter where. In as far as I know four countries (The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and North Korea), you have to follow these lessons in an actual school building, rendering a long trip by van out of the question. We went anyway. Dutch families with children planning a trip with children can send me a PM if they want to talk about our personal experiences.
My daughter would like to add as a general tip not to buy plastic balls that look like water melons. These toys tend not to last very long.

What our children like
Animals. In Kazakhstan, we saw camels, squirrels and snakes and caught tortoises and lizards. Catch fish, shrimps and lobsters in the Caspian Sea. Climb rocks ans dunes.
Unfortunately, both of them don’t like hiking. But when you can climb ship wrecks in Moynaq or city walls and towers in Khiva, that’s fun. Rusty ferris wheels in Uzbekistan and marble and gold ones in Turkmenistan are great. Discovering new rooms in hotels is fun, but not more fun that sleeping together in the van, talking about today’s experiences with your brother/sister. Receiving winter hats as a present in 35 degree Bukhara and wearing them all day long. Riding donkeys and cathing beetles in the Uzbek countryside at Katta Langar. Children don’t care for the Registan for more than 5 minutes, but they love to catch toads once night falls in Samarkand. The only cultural attraction they were sincerely interested in in Uzbekistan was the petroglyphs of Sarmysh.
The crater of Derweze was something that really impressed our children. It appeared in drawings and our daughter mentioned it long after. Our daughter does not talk about the trip often, but our son does. We did not know how much he would remember, being only 4 years old, but these experiences have shaped his life.
Indoor entertainment centres like in Ashgabat are apreciated, as are the occasional playgrounds, but certainly not more than swimming, eating ice cream or simply chasing butterflies in Iran. Water, sand and rocks are more fun than swings and seesaws!
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Re: Silk Road with kids: tips and advice

Postby nomadichappiness » Sun Oct 14, 2018 6:44 pm

Hi, we have been travelling in family for 5 months on the silk road. Actually we were slower than planned so we actually arrived from Europe in the stan's in September, and for practical reasons only went until Tashkent.
We were travelling Dad 37 French Passport, Mum 34 Chilean Passport and little Andina 2,5 years old, both passports.
Our transport was a 37 years old Petrol Renault 4 topped with a roof tent.
We travelled this route : France – Italy - the Balkans – Greece – Turkey – Georgia – Azerbaijan - Caspian Sea Ferry – Kazakhstan – Uzbekistan – Kazakhstan – Russia – Ukraine to France.
In Tashkent, Uzbekistan, after 5 months on the road, my wife being 2 months pregnant and having it hard on Uzbek bumpy roads, and with the perspective of the very cold autumn nights to come and the 7500km non stop driving back to France in a sardines' can on wheels, we decided that they would fly back and I would drive back alone.
It was not hard to travel with the kid, even considering how small was our car and tent. Actually, she was more like a passport to great experiences with people all along the road.

Turkey-Georgia-Kazakhstan : visa-free for French/Chilean citizen, so I don't know their children visa policy
Azerbaijan : I applied to the online visa, filled the family form for the 3 of us. I paid for the 3 of us. At the borders, I handed the passport of my daughter with the evisa printed paper inside, and I was not told anything. So there are 2 interpretations : 1/ they ask visa for kids, or 2/ I paid a visa for my child that was unnecessary and nobody told me.
Uzbekistan : As a Chilean, my wife needed a LOI + embassy visa application which we made in Baku. Previously, I had already applied for the evisa for French citizen. Going through the online process the system refused my daughter's application, so I rang the Uzbek consulate in Paris to be orally confirmed that kids don't need visa for Uzbekistan (I was not told the age limit).
There was no problem to mix the 3 visas (evisa-freevisa-embassyvisa) in the same family (only paperwork and difficult planning as the dates are different for each visa procedure.

Our 2,5 years old girl is very proactive, and it's difficult to have her tight to her car seat for hours. In motor homes kids might entertain themselves, but in a small car, there's not much to do. So we tried to organise the driving days with 1h driving in the late morning, stop for lunch, have some fun, then drive 2 hours in the afternoon so Andina could have her nap. And sometimes in the late afternoon we would drive if necessary the last bit to the planned camp site. 3h driving in a day was comfort, 4h ok, 5h a limit, except for some difficult days such as deserts or rainy days.

Border crossings
We tried as we could to go through borders during Andina's nap in the afternoon. Customs never asked to wake her up when she was asleep.
Greece-Turkey : 1h
Turkey-Georgia: Andina was awake, she had to pass the border with her mum on foot while I was driving the car apart (Rize-Batumi border) 2h
Georgia-Azerbaijan, north border : Andina was sleeping, they didn't wake her up and actually would kindly watch her while we were doing the paperwork. 2h
Kazakhstan-Uzbekistan at Beyneu : It lasted around 2 hours in the desert, so I would suggest to camp before and go through it in the morning.

Big heat was not the biggest problem, because we would almost always find a shade somewhere to spend the hot hours. If no shade was found, we would sit next to the car in the shade and play here with Andina.
Rain was more of a boredom : When you live in a roof tent, and it rains hard, you have no choice other than stay in the tent and wait. For our very active daughter, that was hard, so we invented the rule that rainy days = movie time ! We would eat inside the tent if camping in the wild and mum or dad would be cooking outside under rain! Fortunately, in 6 months we had very few rainy days, maybe 6 days in total in 40 days in Italy, 6 to 10 days in total in the rest of the trip, including a giant storm as I've never seen in my life, in the middle of the Karakalpak Desert of Uzbekistan.

The good part of travelling this way was that most of the time, and with good weather, we would spend it outside, and we would adapt to this life until the point it was weird for us, and especially for Andina, to sleep in a house when couchsurfing, or at hostels !

On the whole trip, Andina has been sick only twice. We would usually eat local food, fruits and veggies as well as meat that we tried to order well cooked.
In Georgia however, something that Andina ate in Tbilisi provoked her high fever, Diarhea and vomiting… We tried to find a doctor in a very touristic town, and there was none! We were told to go to a clinic 15km away. There was indeed a clinic, with a lot of people working inside but no patients at all. Very rude doctor (he said to be, but he was only a nurse) told us gastro are not treated here, go to Tbilisi and he would nervously pushing us out repeating the capital name over and over. While I was struggling to understand his Russian speaking, another nurse was already injecting Andina in the butt with something against fever, old style, no baby care !! Andina to this day always remembers : « The doctor, he said Tbilisi Tbilisi Tbilisi ! »
We could not believe that 3h from the capital, and with some towns that superate 30'000 inhabitant not too far, the only medical centre that would take us was in Tbilisi. We were 70km from Azerbaijan, and we did what normal parents would not dare : we went to the border! To the unknown. We asked the custom officers if there was a hospital and there was one in Balaken, « no pay » they told me. So we went, and Andina was taken into a room and all the nurses around would take care, one would use her whatsapp to communicate with her sister living in France and translating to the Pediatric in Russian. We had made the good choice. We never felt welcomed in Georgia, but Azerbaijan proved to be over-welcoming.
They kept us in the room in family so we slept there 4 nights feeling like in a hotel !! The hospital was very beautiful on the outside façade, but empty inside, medical staff works with almost nothing, and rooms and corridors are in the dark I assume because they have to save on electricity.
The pediatrics gave us the prescription and we went to buy the medicines (antibiotics) at the pharmacy opposite the road.

From this time we have been more careful about what would eat Andina, and also my pregnant wife, eat no eggs and only well cooked meat.

About the insurance, we have a medical assistance (with the credit card). I didn't know how to use it as I never had to do it for myself in a decade travelling. After this experience I checked better and realized that we would have to phone them before going to a doctor… For next travels I promised myself to investigate this better before leaving.

We thought at first that we would go to hostels more often, like 1 night in hostel for 3 free camping nights. Our child adapted so well to camping life that, in 160 days of travelling, we only spent 16 nights in hostels and 20 nights CS or randomly hosted. Which is 1:8 ratio !
It was not often, however those moments spent in hostels were a real plus for Andina, who started to understand the importance of learning languages : she could talk to travellers from many countries hence learning English in an entertaining way. So staying in Hotels or at people's houses would provide rich cultural and languages knowledge as well as social exchanges that might have lacked the rest of the time while travelling in our “family bubble”.
About booking hostels : when we did, we never booked for her: I would always search for 2 single beds or 1 double bed, Andina sleeping in the bed with us. When we arrived at the hostels, the people in charge would always seem to see it as normal, would never mention any fee for the kid even as it's obvious we will use shower. In Uzbekistan, where usually breakfast is included, she would even receive an extra free breakfast for her (although we paid for 2 only). I recall that she is 2 and Half years old. Sometimes, we would feel that the owners would even pay to have her around and cheer up the ambiance.

Children playgrounds
In Turkey, there are often playgrounds in each city. They are not all the time very safe.
We have found a few playgrounds in Georgia made out of welded plain steel, and calling them unsafe would be very optimistic!
In Kazakhstan, Andina would always see the playgrounds and ask to go, but the ones we've seen were always enclosed in schools. However we have only been some days in the country.
In Uzbekistan, playgrounds are almost non existent.

Children care
We were fortunate that Andina stopped using diapers 1 month after leaving. But they are available in all the countries. If there are no supermarkets, you can find diapers in some local mini-market and in pharmacies. There's a pharmacy at almost every corner in KZ and UZ!!
The down side is : where do you throw them away? Trash bins are very few in KZ, and in UZ, if you find one dumpster, just tell me!!!
You can find many many Chinese-made pink and blue plastic toys, often bad copies, in every bazaar. Quality toys are hard to find so bring yours! In Uzbekistan some handmade crafts are however interesting : Andina loved the little Uzbek dolls found in Khiva and Bukhara. Actually, the sellers offered her 3 in total!

Andina is still young to go to school and follow a program. Even like this, we are thinking of home schooling her. We observed her a lot during the travel, actually, I think the whole travel revolved around watching her everyday learning. We discovered that we need not to teach her anything: so many curious things would happen (transportations, people's dress, food, marriage ceremonies, landscapes, curiosities, fruits, virtually everything) that would raise her curiosity, that she was learning on automatic mode. We tried to include her the most we could on the travel: letting her choose sometimes what we would do during the day, what she wanted to eat at restaurants, letting her do every day tasks (cooking, washing dishes or clothes, looking at maps, etc…). She wanted to participate, do like we did, and we let her as far as we could. At the bazaar, she would have opinions about what to buy, wanted to pay. All this resulted on a strong interest in things we would not expect from a child her age, like curiosity for letters (and at the ability to recognise all of them), curiosity for numbers (the number on the room, the prices, the ages, etc.) and at the end of the trip the first adding and subtracting skills (now she's adding and subtracting anything she's seeing!)
Basic human and social skills are learned through the travel, as well as virtually every subject : flags of the countries, their languages, shapes, ethnicities, anthems; the cycle of water when you drive through mountains, navigate in lakes or seas; meteo as you pass through different climates; history as you go through cities and countries… Everything is experienced first hand, it's almost no theory. School theoretical teaching are eventually forgotten. Experience is however kept forever in the memory. So for those who want to travel to remote countries with kids and are afraid of “they will miss one school year, they'll come back with education gap”, be sure that they will, at the contrary, be back home with a great advance on their companions!

Local people and children
Having a kid on a travel to Central Asia, is like a passport for many social exchanges! And especially if it is a little blond. Your kid will receive so much attention, everyday, every minute, that it will be sometimes too much!! People tend to make gifts to them, always, in any shop you go, any bazaar, any street you walk through. From Istanbul to Tashkent, many foods appeared in Andina's hands without us noticing!
Go around the fruit bazaar, if you want healthier “gifts”. We would for example avoid taking Andina to mini-markets at the end, because she would receive too many sweets. Ex-soviet countries seem to have admiration towards sweets, which maybe explains why almost everybody has gold teeth…
Andina always liked those attentions, but in Uzbekistan she was more afraid, because women tend to take her hand and squeeze it. The first time Andina came to me crying, and I thought the woman squeezed her hand because she had thought my girl was stealing fruit, but on other occasions people did the same, with good intentions. But Andina didn't like it obviously!

What she liked, as a 2,5 years old girl.
Having an ice-cream with mum, and comparing them between countries.
Running everywhere, great in the desert areas, scary in big cities.
Talking some English with other travellers in hostels, being polite to people in the local languages, and social exchanges everywhere.
Being with other kids slightly older than her, any language: they always find games.
Participating in everyday tasks
Watching animals, insects, and cattle.

What she disliked:
Museums (that we didn't visit very often)
Long walks in cities
City trips in general, except in no cars areas, where she could go around freely.
She was not interested in landscapes, not in the adult way. I mean that she probably experienced the landscapes, learnt them as a whole, as something normal that goes around and associate them to countries, climates or else. But she didn't have yet an opinion about their beauty. Still, she was interested in the mechanics of landscapes (where does this river goes? Why is this mountain so high? Why is there pine trees here? Why why why all the time!!)

That's a very long post, sorry, I don't know how to summarise such a long travel!
I hope some will be able to spot the right answers to their own travels.

Xavier, Tere, Andina : Nomadic happiness
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Re: Silk Road with kids: tips and advice

Postby maubwana » Tue Oct 23, 2018 7:19 pm

hi Xavier thanks for the great advice and bravo to you, very inspirational to give your daughter an amazing experience so young in life. I also travel very frequently with my daughters, one who is now being schooled on the road, and i promise the reward to see my teenage daughter so far ahead of her friends in terms of confidence and ability is amazing. i am currently heading east from Odessa to Batumi, Yerevan and then Iran, perhaps will see you on the road!! i am a photographer by trade and my mission next year is to put on extensive exhibitions called 'notes from the road', and basically is a variety of my photography over the years that i have shot on the road. i want to broaden the appeal of the exhibition by introducing video clips of inspirational travellers and their stories, with the idea that i can get as many school kids through the exhibitions as possible to encourage them to get on the road and not be drummed into a predictable pattern in life. i was wondering if you would be prepared to send me a short video clip of you and your family and give me on camera a short story of something amazing that happened to you and your family that made it wonderful. if this sounds possible to you please let me know, i feel it important to share and inspire. bye dean
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Re: Silk Road with kids: tips and advice

Postby nomadichappiness » Wed Nov 07, 2018 8:58 pm

Hi Dean, I was on the road back home so no meeting on the road unfortunately. I like also your idea to impulse school kids towards exploration, outer and inner!
I'll PM you :)
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